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There's a particular song that I applied so many effects to that all of the lyrics and specific melodies are beyond recognition, but, if you were to listen to the two songs side by side, still has the overall same mood or tone, though not much more.

Am I allowed to use that in a production? I wouldn't be using "all" of the song exactly, but I would be sampling from the range over most of the altered version of the song. I know there are laws on directly sampling from a song and copying melodies, but I don't know what addresses altered versions of a song.

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This would be a canonical case of copyright infringement. 17 USC 106

the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following....to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work

and in the definitions

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.

In other words, when you transform a work into another work, you are creating a derivative work, even if it is hard to tell what the original work was. You can read about Bridgeport v. Dimension as an example of someone being sued for copying and modifying 2 second's worth, without permission. However, there is disagreement depending on which district you are being sued in, see VMG Salsoul v. Ciccone where the court held that 230 milliseconds of copying was a trifling amount not prohibited by law. Your description suggests that this is not de minimis use.

If there is no direct evidence of copying (such as your confession), the court will rely on "substantial similarity" to determine whether you copied someone else's work. You would really need to consult with an attorney specializing on copyright law and music, to get a professional judgment of whether your work is sufficiently similar to the original.

  • I don't know that you have enough experience with this issue because it is very common practice in contemporary music to sample other songs, and many artists get away with it on a regular basis without paying royalties or being subject to a suit. There are specific laws as to how much of someone else's work you can use for your own artistic work and I just want to know what those laws are. – GaneGoe Sep 4 '18 at 0:05
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    Yes, it is true that there is a lot of copyright infringement in the music industry, and people get away with it all the time. Which is why you need to hire an experienced attorney to do an analysis of your case: he can tell you what your risks are. – user6726 Sep 4 '18 at 0:39
  • But the point is I've been able to answer this question before, it's just been such a long time that I don't remember what the laws are. I'm not looking for your opinion, I'm looking for what is actually passed into law. I already know that there are specific laws that address this issue beyond simple copyrights and I just want to know what they are. – GaneGoe Sep 4 '18 at 1:20
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    You are simply wrong in your assumption that there is any law permitting a particular degree of copying. – user6726 Sep 4 '18 at 1:54
  • @GaneGoe, you are almost certainly referring to fair use laws, and while those do protect certain uses, most of the uses are not clear cut and would require review of an attorney to your specific case to see if you fall within it. I'm also not aware of any fair use exclusions that would allow for a wholesale reuse in any situation anyway, but you really need a lawyer who can give you a qualified legal opinion if you really want to go down that road. – AJ Henderson Sep 4 '18 at 1:56

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